Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The pledge by Kimberly Derting

Charlie lives in Ludania, a country ruled by the iron fist of its queen, and where the classes are kept separated by the languages they speak.  While everyone shares the common language of Englaise, the classes speak different languages, and it is against the law to understand another language, or to raise your eyes to someone when they are speaking a higher classes langauge.  It is dangerous to understand things that you shouldn't, and for her whole life Charlie has kept the secret that she can understand all languages - the ones spoken aloud, and the language hidden in ancient words. 

Her parents have always warned her to hide the truth, that she shouldn't let other people know what she can do, but as she gets older it becomes harder and harder to do.  With her country on the brink of war, Charlie crosses paths with Max and Xander, two very different men who both seem to want something from her, who both seem to have secrets that they are keeping from her.  When things take a dangerous turn, Charlie needs to make choices that affect not only her, but also her little sister Angelina - who is hiding secrets of her own.

The pledge was a gripping read that seems to have borrowed from several different genre to make a world that is unique and interesting, a dystopian future that has a touch of fantasy and steam punk, with just a dash of romance on the side.  Told mainly from the viewpoint of Charlie, you get flashes from the other characters that lead the story forward and give you a different perspective, without jumping backwards and forwards for different points of view.  Charlie is a strongly written character with her strengths and weaknesses, and the relationship she has with her little sister Angelina is just lovely.  The supporting characters are well developed, and there is enough intrigue to keep you guessing about what is coming next, but also has some moments where you go "aha, I knew it!"

This is definitely a cross over novel that will appeal to readers of all different genres, but is at the same time definitely one for the girls - there just isn't enough genuine action to appeal to the boys, and the love story side of things would make most teenage boys roll their eyes.  This is just screaming out to be made into a movie one day, and it is one of those rare books where although the story finishes neatly in one book, it does finish on a nice note that leaves you satisfied.

If you like this book then try:
  • Legend by Marie Lu
  • The secret prince by D. Anne Love
  • Wither by Lauren DeStefano
  • Shatter me by Tahereh Mafi
  • Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
  • Crown duel by Sherwood Smith
  • Alanna the first adventure by Tamora Pierce
  • Under the mountain by Maurice Gee
  • Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The story of Brutus by Casey Anderson

The story of Brutus blends together two stories, the story of a bear cub named Brutus, and the man who raised him.  Casey Anderson grew up in Montana, learning to read the signs of animals and how nature works in both its beauty and its brutality.  He developed a love and respect for nature, learning to take from the land while also protecting it, and over the years began moving into work in the wildlife preservation and wild animals for film and television industries.  All of this work leads to a special bear cub that he names Brutus, and the development of the Montana Grizzly Encounter.  It is the story of a very special bear, but also the story of a man who has learned to walk in the wild with grizzlies, respecting their power and strength, and most of all their right to exist in a wild state.  At times the message is delivered with a heavy hand, but when someone has spent as much time in the wild with real grizzlies as Anderson has, you tend to listen. 

The story of the evolution of Anderson the man is peppered with anecdotes of the growth of the relationship between Anderson and Brutus - a very special bear.  There are some hilarious stories of things Brutus did while growing up, as well as some heart warming moments that will make you tear up with sympathy and compassion.  I have never read about grizzly bears before, I have only seen documentaries or the caricatures in movies, and to read about real bears was a real eye opener.  The photographs in the book are stunning, and to see the size of the bears is just amazing - it may be easy for Americans to convert the pounds thing into a mental image, but I think in kilograms so the photos helped to bring home just how huge these bears actually are.

I really enjoyed reading this book, and while I would have preferred more about Brutus than Anderson, the story is woven together in an impressionable way, and you can't help but be drawn into the plight of the animals kept as disposable commodities by people who have no idea of what they are getting into (like with Sheena and Christie), yet there are people like Anderson who will put their blood, sweat, and tears into rescuing them and giving them a real home. 

This story appealed to me because of the bond that Anderson develops with Brutus, and because it reminds people that nature deserves respect and protection.  My mother enjoyed hearing the anecdotes that would pop up in the story, while I know that my 15 year old nephew would enjoy reading this to hear about all the things Anderson has done in his life.  A great read for a wide ranging audience - even if all you do is skim through and look at the amazing images.

If you like this book then try:
  • The man who lives with wolves by Shaun Ellis
  • Part of the pride by Kevin Richardson
  • The elephant whisperer by Lawrence Anthony
  • The emotional lives of animals by Marc Bekoff

Reviewed by Brilla

Such a pretty girl by Laura Wiess

Meredith was supposed to have nine years, enough time for her to reach 18 and have a normal life.  Instead she gets three years before her father is released, a paedophile who sexually assaulted her and other children.  It was a secret she kept for a long time, and when he was finally caught she was brave enough to testify against him with the promise that he would be gone for years.  Her mother has been dreaming of the day he would come home, but for Meredith it is a waking nightmare that has the promise of pain and disappointment.

The courts say he can't spend time alone with her, that he can't spend time with any child alone, but with a mother who refuses to see what happened as nothing more than a mistake, Meredith has nowhere to turn - or so it seems.  The people who live in the condos around the family can see some of the truth, but is it enough for someone to take action?  Will Meredith be safe this time, or will she break when confronted with a father who still wants her body and soul after three years away from his little girl?

This is another one of those vaguely uncomfortable reads that hooks you from the beginning with a character that tells her story directly to you - an unflinching story of betrayal and unwilling incest.  Meredith is the voice, and champion, for the many victims of incest and sexual molestation, a sad figure that finds the strength to report her father for what he did, and has the strength to resist his advances when he is released from prison.  The supporting cast are a mixed bunch of fellow victims, righteous hunters, and the cop who helped to bring him down.  In some respects it lacks some of the grit of other novels, but that is a benefit here as the story washes over and around you rather than crashing into you and leaving you so disgusted that you can't read anymore. 

This is not an easy read, and it would be best suited to older teens, but Meredith is a voice for the victims, a possible way to reach victims who have been through a similar situation, or at least a read for those who want to understand more about what it feels like to try and find a new identity after your old one has been shattered by someone you should be able to trust.  It also raises the niggling little flag that too many young victims face this same fate, forced to live in close proximity with their brutalisers, while other people are oblivious to what really happened, or who know what happened but refuse to acknowledge it.

If you read this book and would like to read similar books then try:
  • Living dead girl by Elizabeth Scott
  • Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Leftovers by Laura Wiess
  • Thirteen reasons why by Jay Asher
  • Scars by Cheryl Rainfield
  • How it ends by Laura Wiess
  • Hate list by Jennifer Brown

Reviewed by Brilla

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Legend by Marie Lu

June is a poster child for the Republic, a prodigy who scored a perfect 1500 score on the Trial.  She is destined for great things, a shining career catching the scum who threaten the Republic.  Her world is her older brother Matias who has raised her since her parents dies in a car accident.  He is her rock and she looks up to him not only as a brother, but also as a leader in the Republics military.

Day is the most wanted criminal in the Republic, a shadowy figure that destroys the resources of the Republic with attacks on their military resources.  No one knows what he really looks like, but all of the Republic is bombarded with news of his exploits.  Day fights against the Republic for his own reasons, but he maintains a quiet connection with the family he was forced to leave behind. 

June and Day live in separate worlds, until the night Junes brother Matias dies with Day's knife in his chest.  Driven to hunt Day over the death of her beloved brother, June slips into his world and soon finds him, but he is not what she expects.  Day can expect nothing less than a death sentence for his crimes, but as June learns more about Day she realises that there is more to the Republic than she ever knew - but is it too late?

This was an interesting read for a lot of reasons - even though it took me nearly a week to read it because of various distractions in the background of my life.  Both June and Day are strong voices, and the novel switches back and forth between them which keeps the action moving forward, but also allows you to really see the story from both sides in their own voices rather than listening to the voice of "god" telling you what they are feeling.  The characters are both strong which covers the occasional blip of the story being too convenient, and the pace keeps the story moving at a rapid pace towards an enjoyable and somewhat satisfying ending - somewhat because it feels like it was left open for a sequel of sorts. 

Highly recommended for teens who enjoy a good dystopian read, and for adults who would like to read something that feels a little familiar while also being fresh.  It would be interesting to see this translated to the big screen as there are subtleties in the book that come from hearing the inner voices of the characters, an understanding of their motivations that could be lost if you just focus on the action of the novel instead. 

If you like this book then try:
  • The always war by Margaret Peterson Haddix
  • The limit by Kristen Landon
  • The hunger games by Suzanne Collins
  • Subject seven by James A. Moore
  • Game runner by B.R. Collins
  • The forest of hands and teeth by Carrie Ryan

Reviewed by Brilla

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Level 26: Dark revelations by Anthony E. Zuiker & Duane Swierczynski

This is the third book in the Level 26 trilogy and contains spoilers about what has happened in the previous two books - if you like to read series in order then be warned that there are ***SPOILERS*** in this review and don't read any more of this review.

Steve Dark has chased some seriously dangerous villains over the years, killers with twisted minds and ambitious ways of committing unspeakable acts of torture and murder.  First he was with Special Circs with his mentor Tom Riggins, but more recently he has been working with Lisa Graysmith - who represents a mysterious benefactor that provides Dark with all the toys and access he needs to keep chasing the bad guys.  Dark is finally settling into a life with his young daughter Sibby, finding a balance between being a dad and catching the killers that need catching.  That balance is altered when a homeless man walks into an LAPD building and blows up, leaving behind a parcel from a person identifying themselves as Labyrinth.  Labyrinth appears out of nowhere, a killer with unbelievable skills who leaves a series of complicated messages and just enough time to try and solve them.  Time that rapidly ticks away for the first few victims.

Tired of being a puppet on a string, Dark turns the tables on Graysmith and demands to be taken to her employer, but meeting his mysterious benefactor may only be the beginning.  Labyrinth is intelligent and twisted, and very adept at maniulating the masses through global media and social networking.  What should be a series of villainous acts instead turns the people into a seething mass of discontent, a mass of people calling for change and for people to be accountable.  Used to hunting alone, Dark struggles to settle into his new team, and complications from his old life don't help.

This is the final book in the Level 26 series and ends the series with a satisfying bang (and something of a whimper as well).  This has been an interesting experiment, blending together elements of the traditional novel, with digital media elements for those who want to go online and watch the clips.  For the first book in the series I stopped and watched the clips in the appropriate places, for the second I watched some of them but not in the "right" places, and for this last one I read it purely as a book.  I enjoyed the concept and would like to see some of the teens authors try something similar with some of the fantasy/horror series or with some of the real life reads - it could add an interesting dimension, but also has to be done very well to match the level of integrity that Zuiker and the team established here.

This is not a series for the faint hearted as it can be graphic at times.  I liked trying to figure out the riddles in this book before the characters, and there are some very slick ideas in this book.  It would be interesting to see a series of movies based on Special Circs, but based on the novels it would be too gory for my taste to see in full colour on the big screen.  Hopefully Zuiker will come up with some more ideas like this in the future.

If you like this book then try:
  • Level 26: Dark origins by Anthony E. Zuiker and Duane Swierczynski
  • Fun & games by Duane Swierczynski
  • I am not a serial killer by Dan Wells
  • Cold vengeance by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  • Shock wave by John Sandford
  • Darkly dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay
  • The bone collector by Jeffery Deaver
  • The silence of the lambs by Thomas Harris
  • Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
  • Hostage by Robert Crais

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How to keep dinosaurs by Robert Mash

What do you get the child who has everything - how about their very own dinosaur?  This is the perfect book for the dinophile who is ready for their first dinosaur - one to keep in the house or maybe one to keep in the yard.  It's not limiting to pet dinosaurs though, maybe you are interested in raising dinosaurs for farming instead - some species are a great source of feathers or eggs.  Or maybe you are more more adventurous and would rather open a zoo or safari park, this book can offer great advice about which species to choose for your zoo, and which ones to avoid.

This is a fantastically fun book that will appeal to dinosaur lovers (and anyone with a sense of humour) of all ages.  This book is basically a breed book for dinosaurs with size comparisons to people, what they like to eat, what their energy levels are like, and where you can get them from.  Each description includes a colour photo, many of them including people interacting with their pet dinosaurs in day-to-day life.  Broken down into easy to sections, it is an easy to read book with the odd personal comment from the author about their favourites, and some very serious warnings about what not to do with some of the species.

A wonderful read that I discovered years ago (thanks to a co-worker) and I am very glad that I found it again.

If you like this book then try:
  • Walking with dinosaurs: a natural history by Tim Haines
  • The complete guide to prehistoric life by Tim Haines and Paul Chambers
  • If dinosaurs were alive today by Dougal Dixon
  • How to raise and keep a dragon by John Topsell; illustrated by Dan Malone
  • Dr. Ernest Drake's dragonology: the complete book of dragons by Dugald Steer
  • Dr. Ernest Drake's monsterology handbook: a practical course in monsters by Dugald Steer
  • The monster maintenance manual: a spotter's guide by Peter Macinnis; illustrated by Adele K. Thomas

Reviewed by Brilla

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Kill switch by Neal Baer & Jonathan Greene

Claire Waters is a forensic psychiatrist who has just started working in one of the most sought after fellowships under the brilliant Dr. Curtin.  If she can nail this fellowship and keep on track then she has a truly brilliant future ahead of her, the kind of career that most psychiatrists can only dream of.  Curtin is a tough task master, but he also knows how to bring out the best in people, and his programme involving prisoners from Rikers Island is incredibly successful.  Claire's first case doesn't seem to bad, a small time criminal heading for greater things, but then things take a dangerous turn when he begins a murdering spree on the outside - when he is on Claire's watch.

Dealing with the fallout brings Claire into the path of Detective Nick Lawley, a cop who was on the outside but has managed to claw his way back in with this one case.  As the murder spree develops, Claire and Nick discover that there is more to the story, and that their straight forward case may be anything but.  There is an added mystery running through the case, an added danger that could see them both dead and buried before the end of the case.  Underneath it all is the case that Claire has never forgotten, the case that saw her best friend kidnapped before her eyes - the best friend who was never found.  Claire is good at what she does, and part of the reason is that she knows what real lose feels like, a vulnerability that could put everything at risk if she can't control how she reacts to things that the case brings bubbling back to the surface.

This is an interesting read from two of the former Executive Producers from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.  At first it seemed like it fit neatly into one kind of crime sub-genre, but then it takes a leap into another, before taking a final leap into yet another sub-genre (no spoilers here today).  Claire is an interesting character, although at times it does feel a little like this is a narrated script rather than a novel, it is just the way some things read, but it is not off putting.  The supporting cast is interesting and while they fade into the background sometimes, the other main character Nick is a strong character who holds his own in the story and has his own parallel story which adds to the general "good-ness" of the book. 

This may be the start of a new series, or it may be a standalone.  The ending of the novel finishes this story nicely, but there is room there to continue with this "world" and these people.

If you like this book then try:
  • The devil's cure by Kenneth Oppel
  • Catch me by Lisa Gardner
  • Taken by Robert Crais
  • The surgeon by Tess Gerritsen
  • Heat wave by Richard Castle
  • Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs

Reviewed by Brilla

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Shattered souls by Mary Lindsey

Lenzi is sure she is going mad, just like her dad did before he committed suicide.  The only real comfort in her life is Zak, a soul almost as tortured as she is.  The voices she hears seem to be dulled by the pills she sneaks from her mothers medicine cabinet, but they only seem to work for so long and she finds herself the social outcast of her school - the freak.  But then one night she meets Alden, a boy who says he has known her for centuries, who seems to know her almost better than she knows herself - although at first he calls her Rose, a name that stirs echoes of memories. 

But Alden brings something else to, the promise of a destiny where Lenzi is a ghost hunter who helps souls find their way to eternal rest, or eternal damnation, depending on what they were like when they were alive.  It is a scary concept, one that she is almost too scared to deal with.  And then there is the added complication of Zak, who sees Alden as a rival for her affections, a rival that stirs a dangerous jealously within him.  While Lenzi explores the present and the past with Alden, she feels like he is holding something back, a secret that he doesn't want her to know.

This was an interesting read, and one that will appeal to readers who like to work a little for their books, who want a story that unfolds as you read it rather than jumping up and down from the start to grab your attention.  Lenzi is not a particularly strong character and there are bits about her that bug me, but the mythology that was built around her and Alden is both interesting and intriguing.  This could easily be the start of a series that includes other people in the same "reality" or it could easily be a stand alone novel.  The ending finishes off the story and brings closure for the characters, without bringing the story to an abrupt stand still.  This was another novel that I picked up to read and debated with myself about whether I was going to finish it or not, and I am glad I did, but more for the supporting cast and mythology than Lenzi.

If you like this book then try:
  • Anna dressed in blood by Kendare Blake
  • The unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
  • The space between by Brenna Yovanoff
  • The black tattoo by Sam Enthoven
  • Paranormalcy by Kiersten White

Reviewed by Brilla